Dubai: It was in July last year when captains of England and Indian women’s teams — Heather Knight and Mithali Raj — made a call about the need for an Indian Premier League-type tournament for them to cash in on the growing popularity of their game. The rise in eyeballs for the 2017 ICC Women’s World Cup, which had the two above countries as finalists, made their appeal a valid one. But the Indian cricket board was then rather lukewarm to the idea.

Nearly 10 months down the line, there seems to be a change of heart as the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is mulling to put a women’s IPL in place in the next two to three years. As if to taste waters, they will be hosting a T20 Challenge Match at the Wankhede Stadium ahead of IPL’s Qualifier I on May 22.

Harmanpreet Kaur, captain of India’s T20 team and a regular at the women’s Big Bash Down Under, and Smriti Mandhana will lead out the two teams in the exhibition match that will showcase some of the biggest women cricketers from hosts India, Australia, New Zealand and England.

“We are planning to get a women’s IPL in place in two to three years,” BCCI administrator Vinod Rai admitted to the media.

The sterling performance of Raj-led team in last year’s World Cup in England, which saw them finish as a close runners-up, led to a wave of popularity of the game in India with the ‘Women in Blue’ being accorded a huge welcome on their return back home. The endorsement sector had warmed up to the likes of Raj, Kaur & Mandhana while the veteran Indian captain is now having a biopic made on her.

Dropping hints on their plans, Rajeev Shukla, the IPL chairman, told the media: “Even as IPL continues to roll like a well-oiled machine, over the last couple of weeks, efforts were made to put in place a similar structure for women cricketers. We were in talks with several boards and I am pleased with the outcome.”

White Ferns captain Suzie Bates, Sophie Devine, who holds the record for fastest half-century in women’s T20Is; Australia’s all-rounder Ellyse Perry, wicketkeeper-batswoman Alyssa Healy, Megan Schutt and Beth Mooney and Danni Wyatt and Daniel Hazell of England have confirmed their participation.

Diana Edulji, a pioneering figure in women’s cricket in India and a member of Committee of Administrators (CoA), said: “This is a small yet significant step towards a prospective league involving women’s stars in the future. The IPL is the biggest and most popular league in the world and it has been a long-time endeavour to have a women’s league that can match the exuberance of IPL.”

This match will begin at 12.30pm UAE time and will be followed by the IPL Qualifier 1.